What are abandonment issues?
Abandonment issues are problems in your relationships and in trusting others.
They stem from life experiences that left you feeling you could not rely on others to take care of you and be there for you.
Experiences of abandonment leave us feeling disconnected from others and misunderstood, try as we might to develop lasting and strong bonds.
Signs you suffer abandonment issues
Abandonment leaves a child with the message that they are not valued, important, or loved.
This has far reaching psychological implications if not recognised and healed, and as an adult can result in symptoms that can include the following:
Related psychological issues can include:
What sort of childhood experience counts as abandonment?
Have all the symptoms of abandonment issues, but sure you can’t have a problem as you can’t think of anything ‘big’ enough in your past to have caused them?
It’s important to keep in mind that our mind and brain when we are children can register things differently than our adult’s brain. What might seem like no big deal to us now could have been quite serious to the child we were, lodging in our unconscious as trauma.
So you don’t need to have been abandoned on a doorstep or come from a broken home to have abandonment issues.
Abandonment is about feeling disconnected from others, so it can be any experience at all that left you feeling rejected and like others were just not there for you in the way you needed them to be.
While things like an absent parent, divorce, adoption or bereavement can and often do cause abandonment issues, there are also other, not quite as obvious forms of abandonment that can deeply affect a child. These can include:
- a parent who is too depressed to give the child attention
- a parent with an addiction that takes all their energy
- a parent who is emotionally cold and unavailable
- a parent who neglects your needs and doesn’t take care of you properly
- being a ‘latchkey kid’ (parent never home) who is alone often or bought up by an older sibling
- parents who go out and/or away often leaving a child with a rotating roster of babysitters and relatives
- sexual or physical abuse
Why is abandonment as a child such an issue?
As children we take our experiences as truth, unable to see that it’s only our limited perspective. These lead to what are called our ‘core beliefs‘ as an adult – our set of unconscious beliefs about how the world works that lead our lives from, and make all decisions based around. Unless we take the time to question our core beliefs, we can live our life from ‘facts’ that are not even true at all.
If as a child you felt abandoned, you would develop such unsupportive beliefs as, “I don’t deserve to feel safe”, “the world is a dangerous place”, “you can’t rely on anyone to always be there for you”, or “I don’t deserve to be loved and cared for”.
You can imagine, if these are your secret beliefs, how you might make choices that don’t lead to feeling loved and happy.
Abandonment and borderline personality disorder
When speaking of abandonment issues it’s hard to avoid talking about borderline personality disorder (BPD).
Borderline personality disorder has at its heart a deep fear of abandonment. Those with BPD seem to lack the emotional ‘skin’ other people have, meaning they are incredibly sensitive. This combination, of deep fear around being abandoned combined with being oversensitive, leads them to overreact, perceiving the slightest things as a sign of abandonment.
People with borderline personality disorder often have great reserves of love to offer and want a loving relationship more than anything. But sadly, they are often the ones who have dramatic relationships involving a lot of push and pull and have a very hard time staying too long in one relationship.
What do I do if I think this is me?
The good news about abandonment issues is that, unless they are part of a larger personality disorder, they are usually reversible (and even if you do suffer BPD they are manageable).
It does, however, take a strong commitment to yourself to work through abandonment issues, and the willingness to face your ways of being and acting and how such behaviours developed.
While self help is a great starting point, abandonment issues run deep, involving a feeing of being unloveable and unworthy that generally requires support to heal and rise beyond.
Counselling and psychotherapy is a wonderful fit for abandonment issues because the nature of therapy is really a relationship. You develop a relationship with your therapist, and this can serve as a tool to experience what it’s like to trust someone fully.
All sorts of therapy will help you with your ways of relating, but some even specialise just on relationships and relationship issues like abandonment. Consider schema therapy, dynamic interpersonal therapy (DIT) or cognitive analytic therapy (CAT).
Want to know how abandonment issues affect your relationships? Sign up to receive alerts when this next piece in the series is posted.
Have a comment or want to share your experience around abandonment? Do so below.